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The challenge of community

Lately I’ve noticed various articles decrying the loss of community, be that the difficulties encountered by local businesses or the stripping away of local support systems and interconnections. It seems in many ways the traditional functions of community and local relationships are fading and being commodified into services or products. That may be slightly cynical, but it does seem distrust and the perceived security of the client relationship are replacing natural cooperation between people.

When I think about what community used to be, it seems it was a fairly static collection of people with a network of established relationships that people maintained and understood. It seems there was a hierarchy of sorts and also social convention that shaped interactions, creating trust. Much of life seemed mediated through community – celebration, the passing of time, social meaning, the processes of change.

Modern life seems to have stripped much of that back through social mobility, rising populations, remote and abstract economic activity, the changing structures of family and other social relationships, and the growth of technology. Much of the limitations and hierarchy seems to have gone, creating a slightly unnerving level of freedom but also the conditions for greater equality.

In our predominantly economic reality, it seems many of the old functions are re-emerging as business opportunities offering lifestyle, entertainment, maintenance, care, or security as services where I imagine much of that used to exist within the parameters of household, neighbourhood and community life. Even modern services such as counselling seem to replace natural social relationships and meaning, for example through the stability and honesty of social life.

Overall the sense of community seems to have drifted into a more isolated, transactional, problem-solving approach to modern life. Maybe it’s the lack of time, or the application of economic principles that outsource certain functions for efficiency, I’m not sure. But in essence it seems that human connections are disappearing and being replaced by economic ones.

Of course it’s harder to trust when community is now a large, changeable mix of people and social conventions are breaking down or undefined. And there are natural challenges to communication when so many aspects of life have changed so completely – that takes time, and time is something we don’t have in many ways.

As with everything, I’m not aiming to criticise so much as delineate what seems to be happening. Hopefully we can engage with these processes and begin to more consciously create and maintain these structures, rather than looking on local community as simply something that adds value to our real estate and quality of life. We are still groups of people living in places, and it would be nice if that human reality could be revived.

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